The Jharkhand government on Wednesday said that it will not renew the notification of the Netarhat Field Firing Range, which is spread over 1,470 square kilometres of land across 245 villages in two districts, The Indian Express reported.
The development came after a memorandum was submitted by gram pradhans of 39 revenue villages in Latehar and Gumla districts to not re-notify the army field firing range.
“The struggle of thousands of Adivasis for 30 years will come to an end,” a government release said. “The Chief Minister [Hemant Soren] decided not to re-notify the Netarhat Field Firing Range, which had started in 1964.”
The Jharkhand government noted that the residents had decided to not let the Field Firing Range remain notified for practice.
The memorandum submitted by the gram pradhans to the governor stated that the region comes under the Fifth Schedule Area and is governed under the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. The Act gives the power to the gram sabhas to decide on community resources in these areas, the Jharkhand government noted.
Started in 1964, the Army carried out firing exercises at the range.
For decades now, Adivasis have protested against the decision to convert Netarhat into a field firing range for the army. In 1994, because of the movement, the firing exercises were stopped. But the area could not be freed of the firing range notification.
Jerome Kujur, general secretary of Kendriya Jan Sangharsh Samiti, an organisation leading the protest against the firing range, said that the government in 1954 notified the area of seven revenue villages for the Army to practice.
This was done by invoking the Manoeuvres Field Firing Artillery Practice Act, 1938, Kujur told The Indian Express. “In 1992, the duration of practice [on the range] was increased to 2002 and the area was increased from seven villages to 245 villages,” he added.
In 1994, locals found out from a report that the administration was planning to “permanently displace the villagers and acquire their land”, Kujur said.
“Since then, our struggle has continued,” the activist said. “We did not let the Army enter [the range] on March 22, 1994 for training. The Army had not come for practice since then.”
The notification of the firing range got terminated in May this year.